Karla Kelsey

of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania

Winner of the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award in 2010

from SestinaLA


PART FIRST a wet fate means
carry me off in rivers and
oceans means a plywood raft means
salt mixed with rust and let's
become all that cannot be known
in a moment of perception even

as re-enacted on screen solidified in
celluloid and silver the whites of
her eyes gleam and she mouths
I leave you my collection of
buttons and shells a wet fate
requires bailing out water with a

shoe requires Mother to while away
her time trying to teach me
crewel work, latch hook, the regency
stitch performed over yards of linen
rendering in fabric the apple tree
and all the things I never

learned accumulate as past offset by
the present of rain, boat, park,
for according to The Philosopher, a
thing is always determined by its
function; an eye, for instance, constituted
by what it can see, and

so what to do with the
apple tree before me, leafless, fruitless,
eye-bound to such interior PART SECOND
but will we listen to truth
rung from the tower by a recording
of Vatican bells, will we listen

when he defines a subject as
that of which everything is predicated
but that is, itself, never predicated
of any thing for when I
ask will we listen I mean
I I mean me for I

was born into winter with a
sprig of holly in my mouth
to become a slow shifting bound
in ice and accumulation of glass
beads, seashells, rusted nails, buttons of
pearls of seed as wind and

dim sun mouth snow I arrived
in a new faux fur cape
and hat with a netted veil
you knew me and you knew
me not so I learned that
by requirement he means necessity, links

not only between men and food
and men and sleep and men
and sex, but the plastic of
the swan calling to the bottom
of the lake, the color of
the boathouse stirring up destruction latent

in wind for the fire hand
prone towards injury and accident is
long with short fingers, tends to
have strong lines and whorl fingerprints
which catch on wind a fate
requiring embossed note-cards written in code


Forrest Gander on Karla Kelsey

Flat-out brilliant. Its wit and intelligence glance out everywhere. Smooth taffy enjambments pull the reader, the syntax, and wobbly configurations of meaning into the next line and the next with intoxicating enthusiasm. At the same time, deftly orchestrated sound patterns charm the lineal interiors. Throughout this long poem, seemingly familiar diction and grammar comes spiked with word substitutions so startling, they suspend our semantic links and subvert snatches of narrative. In fact, the whole poem seems to be constructed on a tonal framework of transilient melodic improvisations. And yet "SestinaLA" is definitively a philosophical poem concerned with the nature of identity and with the proposition that "it is impossible/ to distinguish one self from another". What makes the poem so exceptional is that its theme is developed with such vivid formalism (since, as the poet writes, a "thing is always determined by its/ function") in shifting fields of music and language where restless subjects shimmer into and out of view.

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